Let's say you're 38, as good as new. You work out and go for five-kilometer runs twice a week and top it off with a two-hour soccer game Friday afternoon. True, you've lost a lot of your hair, but when you look into the mirror you decide you don't look too bad. Your jeans size hasn't changed in several years, your arm muscles are rippling, and in the summer you have no problem strutting around like a peacock in a Tanga bathing suit. Now there's no doubt that the looks you're getting are neither contemptuous nor pitiful, but jealous - and maybe even lustful.

And then you get the phone call from your wife. You're in the middle of getting dinner ready; you're being careful with the sharp knife and fantasizing about a romantic evening with the requisite highlight after the kids go to sleep. On the other side of the line you identify a slightly embarrassed tone of voice mixed with a touch of concern. "I'm shopping with a friend," she says. "And we suddenly walked into a sex shop. Should I buy us something?" Your last name has never seemed so close to "Bobbitt" before.

Where in the world did this come from? You try to remember whether you've heard any complaints in the last 10 years, whether she had dropped any hints, whether you weren't a bit arrogant to think that it would happen to everyone else but not to you. What's wrong with me, what am I doing wrong to deserve this? Was it a coincidence that it happened while you were getting dinner ready? Your male pride is crushed. Your partner is sending you a serious hint that you're missing something.

The easy way would be to blame this sudden deterioration on her deviant friend and the friend's fossilized husband. Other ways of getting out of this relate to your embarrassing technical skills when it comes to operating any instruments that are not part of your own body - or the excuse that the kids are too curious and the housekeeper is too good, so that if you don't get electrocuted by some device or other, you'll certainly die of shame when the horror is discovered.

And maybe the whole thing is totally natural. A decade of monogamy does exact a price. Everything becomes overly routine, expected, maybe even boring. How bad would it be if you added some variety? Anyway, you're not alone in this. Sex shops have been prospering these days, their merchandise competes with NASA scientists in inventiveness, and most people march inside in full daylight without any attempt to hide their faces or pretend they're buying a present for a friend.

However you look at it, the story here revolves around the male ego - something along the lines of "I need to ask for help?" After all, you already know all the right spots, you whisper the most seductive words, you caress like a merciful nurse, and all in all, you're just as energetic as a 22-year-old. But maybe that isn't exactly the case? Oh well, it's too late. Now the doubt's going to kill you.

Anyway, what's so bad about a little help from your friends? Nothing with a personality of its own, nothing that can talk, nothing that breathes, fondles or embraces, nothing you watch TV with or have a cigarette with afterward. Unless, of course, that's exactly what she can't stand about you.